The “Do’s” and “Don’ts” of Postpartum Exercise

You just had a baby! The initial shock of having formed a human and then brought it kicking and screaming into the world is finally wearing off, you’re learning to cope with a crazy sleep schedule, and sweatpants and a messy bun are officially your go-to mom look. You’re doing amazing!

If now feels like the right time for you to start exercising again, you might be right. Gentle and slow is the name of the game—starting with light exercise postpartum. The postpartum period is a delicate time for your body. It’s going through lots of hormonal changes and healing. Setting a good foundation of safe exercises after birth can make the next months of a growing, energetic baby easier, give you more confidence, and help you feel more like you again!

Do seek your doctor’s advice and clearance.

You’re probably wondering how soon you can start exercising after giving birth. For most mamas, the guidance from the medical community is to wait at least 6 weeks, and even then, you shouldn’t begin an exercise program unless you feel physically and mentally ready, and your doctor has given you the green light. You may be directed to wait longer depending on the type of birth you had, the level of trauma to your body experienced during the process, and your general well-being at the time you decide to begin, and that’s okay. Listen to your doctor and your body. Now is not the time to try to push your limits!

Don’t begin exercise hoping to lose weight quickly.

After you have a baby, your body will begin rapidly dropping pounds. Much of this is water weight and extra fluid, and it can be exciting to watch the numbers on the scale go down. Eventually, these numbers will level off. What you need to keep in mind when hoping to lose that baby weight is that your body really wants to keep those pounds on. Some of the fat you now store is beneficial for your milk supply, and your body doesn’t necessarily want to give that up easily. Also, your body is undergoing an extreme hormone change. Things are fluctuating, and your body is relearning how to operate under new hormonal circumstances. This can also be a reason that the pounds seem to cling. In the postpartum state, don’t be in a huge hurry to see numbers flying off of the scale. Your metabolism is extremely different now, and you can’t expect it to work in the same manner as before. That is not to say it’s worse – just different!

Give your body time to even out hormonally before you pound yourself into the ground with exercise. Patience is key. Instead of using the numbers on the scale as a gauge of progress, go off of how you feel, how your clothes fit, and increased strength. Do you have more energy? Are you getting around easier? Are you happier on a daily basis? Are those jeans fitting again? These measures of progress are just as valuable as numbers on a scale and will create a much better environment of positivity around exercise for you.

Do watch your milk supply.

This can be a good gauge of whether or not you may be overdoing things. A sharp drop in milk supply can be an indicator that you need to intake more calories. An occurrence of mastitis can also be a warning that you’re doing a bit too much. Milk supply’s ebb and flow with your baby’s needs, so don’t panic if things are different from week to week. However, if you begin intensely exercising and notice that baby’s needs are suddenly not being met, you may need to scale back the exercise or drastically up your calories. In fact, upping your calories may be a good idea all around. Research shows that a body starved for its caloric needs will not be willing to give up fat, as fat is a valuable resource when calories run low. If you’ve been attempting to lose weight with dieting in the postpartum period without much progress, up your calories by about 200 per day for 2 weeks and note your progress.

Don’t attempt crunches, planks, or any other abdominal move that creates pressure.

Whether or not you have the dreaded diastasis recti, a separation of the abdominal muscles at the midline, extreme care should be given to your core area at the onset of exercise. Be really careful with tummy exercises after birth. Often this is the area that has changed the most, and of course - it just expanded to unbelievable levels to house your sweet little one. Now your core is in the process of healing. There are things you can do to help it along and things you can do that will allow for more damage. You should never do planks, crunches, or any exercises that increase intra abdominal pressure. This is where your core is pressing outwards rather than being drawn in. Often times the core will press up visibly and be elevated at the midline, just above your bellybutton. STOP doing an exercise if you notice this happening, and instead choose an exercise geared towards core repair.

Do rebuild your core with targeted breath work.

Before you begin exercising, it’s a great idea to build up your core strength to increase stability through your body at the trunk. Plus, strengthening that core will help reduce the look of that mommy “pooch”! The best and safest way to go about postpartum core strengthening is through breathing exercises. Sounds too good to be true, right? The fact is, you don’t have to spend hours doing crunches and painful ab exercises that will cause more trauma – you can lay on your floor and breath for a few minutes each day to rebuild that core. (Click here to access 3 weeks of core repair breath work with video demonstrations of exercises for free!)

Targeted core breath work looks like this: You lay on your back or stand, depending on the exercise, and draw in and flex your core, pulling bellybutton to spine, hold for a few seconds, and then releasing. This can include no movement of the extremities, simply breathing in and out while flexing your core, or it can involve moving your upper or lower body through planes of motion with weight. It’s a good idea to get help with these exercises to make sure you are choosing postpartum safe options. @thebadassmothers Instagram page is a great resource for you, with frequent posts demonstrating safe core repair breath work!

Do ease into cardio, especially running.

Running can be a great tool for weight-loss, especially because you can pack baby into the jogging stroller and exercise together! If you were an avid runner prior to pregnancy, you are probably safe to get back into your running without issue, although you should definitely lower your intensity and slowly ramp up to adding in more miles and faster speeds. However, if you are new to running, or if you have diastasis recti or pelvic floor issues, you need to address your core strength and stability before you hit the pavement. I can tell you first hand that if you jump into jogging without strengthening up your core and pelvic floor first, you and your bladder are going to become mortal enemies – you won’t have control of your bladder! Not. Pretty. Your core and pelvic floor are closely connected. Much of the targeted breath work you can do to help your core will help your pelvic floor as well.

Also keep in mind that jogging is hard on the joints, especially if you are carrying extra weight. Walking is a much more favorable option. Walking at a fast pace, enough to elevate the heart rate, will burn a similar amount of calories as running, without the impact and potential for injury. Other good options are stair steppers, rowers, ellipticals, and stationary bikes to get that heart rate up.

Don’t jump in at the level you were before you became pregnant.

Start slow, mama! Your body will thank you. Even if you are starting to feel like yourself again, keep in mind that your body is changed in remarkable ways, and that crazy exercise pace you were able to sustain before you became pregnant is not your new baseline! Scale things way back. Start with 2 days a week for about 20 minutes, then slowly add in more days as your body responds positively and your strength and stamina increase.

Postpartum injury is extremely common, especially among new moms who used to exercise frequently and tried to exercise just as how they used to. Your joints are less stable now, lower back more vulnerable, muscles less primed for growth and quick movements. Go in easy, and listen to your body. It will tell you if you need to scale back, and when it talks, make sure to listen! Now is not the time to power through things that don’t feel good or days that you don’t feel great. Go easy to begin, and it will benefit you in the long run. The goal is to find an exercise routine that is incredibly sustainable and that you think you could keep up for months or years to come. Don’t burn yourself out!

Do pick up dumbbells or work on bodyweight resistance.

Aside from core repair, no exercise modality is more valuable to the new mom than resistance training. Training with weights and dumbbells is vital. You probably have a limited amount of time to work out. You probably have a metabolism that is in flux. You probably have a future ahead that requires you to pick up a growing human, and all the objects associated with that human, which gets heavy, tiring, and awkward! Weight training is a no brainer for you.

You will get the most bang for your buck, meaning you can do the most beneficial work on your body in the shortest amount of time with weights. Building muscle is the ultimate metabolism booster, if not the very best out there, and will give your body shape while reducing body fat. Plus, being strong is so helpful as a mom! You always have someone or something in your arms. Having the ability to confidently carry your child and all their accoutrements around all day is invaluable. Being strong looks good and feels good. Don’t be afraid of getting too muscular – it is absolutely never going to happen. All you get from resistance training is benefit!

Don’t measure your progress against others.

Instagram will have you believing that all women have a 6 pack 12 weeks after giving birth. A sexy core can be in your future, no doubt. My core looked better after having a baby than it did before – but it took a whole year of diligent work to get there! Celebrities bounce back because they can pay people to watch their children while paying someone to cook for them while paying someone to train them. Also, photoshop! The reality is that you are on your own journey. Your body is different than other women, your metabolism is different than other women, your circumstances are different than other women. Judge you against you only. Focus your attention internally. Did you do better today than you did yesterday? You will never arrive at a destination without first making the journey to get there. You will never lose the weight if you constantly feel down and give up on yourself because your progress feels slower than others. You are doing great. You are making it happen. You will get there.

Do give yourself grace!

Relax. Take your time. That body made a human! From scratch! Give it some love. Give it some grace. It cannot be stomped into submission. It doesn’t need to be dieted to it’s smallest form. It can be appreciated and revered and treated tenderly and lovingly. You are showing so much love to that little human. Save some for you, mama. You deserve it.